Can I take your order? I’d like an organic, zero waste, eco-friendly burger with a side order of ugly vegetables, served with no plastic straw and 100% compostable fork and knife, please. That’s right – a new era of sustainability is on the menu. Today’s consumers are searching for options that are not only healthy for them, but also the environment.

Following the “Year of the Sustainable Shopper,” nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers today say they would change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. When it comes to their food, a restaurant’s sustainability efforts can certainly influence dining decisions in their favor. In fact, about half of customers say that a restaurant’s recycling, food donation programs and food waste initiatives can be factors when choosing where to dine, according to the National Restaurant Association’s State of Restaurant Sustainability 2018 report.

Not only will the fruits of sustainable labor drive consumer visits, restauranteurs may see a boost in sales too. Nearly one in three consumers say they’re willing to pay more at a restaurant that focuses on food waste reduction (NRA Show 2019, “The Benefits of Waste Reduction and How to Achieve Them”). Considering America’s largest generation alone, millennials will be a lucrative future for sustainable operators. When surveyed, millennials are willing to pay more for products that contain environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients (90%), organic/natural ingredients (86%), or products that have social responsibility claims (80%).

Consumers’ demand for sustainability is pulsating – and foodservice operators are jumping on the green wagon. Roughly half of all restaurants track the food waste they generate, while more than one in 10 compost their food waste. Further, the NRA report found 72% of operators buy some packaging and supplies that contain recyclable material, 56% buy supplies certified as compostable and one in five donate edible leftovers to charities. With zero-waste cooking ranking third on NRA’s 2019 What’s Hot list of overall trends for 2019, you can bet sustainability is a key area of focus for the industry today.

Despite foodservice sustainability initiatives picking up, very little is being communicated to consumers. Only 1 in 5 consumers believe they are familiar with food waste reduction and other sustainability efforts in the foodservice industry (NRA Show 2019). Knowing the importance of consumer awareness as a driver for traffic, it’s crucial for operators to communicate and promote their sustainability efforts to ensure their words are speaking just as loud as their actions

Here are three examples of foodservice power players who have recently launched marketing campaigns to boast about their sustainable ways and provide diners with a new level of transparency as they join forces to improve the environment for the better.

  • Red Lobster “Seafood with Standards” Program – The large seafood chain recently launched a partnership with Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to help guide its sustainable sourcing practices and protect global fisheries. Living the motto “Traceable, Sustainable, Responsible,” Red Lobster’s “The Hard Way” campaign tells the story behind their seafood, educates diners about the differences between wild-caught and farm-raised seafood and brings to life their commitment to their guests and our oceans.
Red Lobster “The Hard Way” Campaign
  • McDonald’s “Scale for Good” Program – The fast food giant’s campaign covers it all from sustainable sourcing, climate action, environmental protection, energy efficiencies and recycling. Last year, McDonald’s said goodbye to foam completely as they remain committed to using 100% renewable or recycled customer packaging and having recycling available in all of its locations by 2025.
McDonald’s “Scale For Food” Program
  • Chipotle “Gloves to Bags” Campaign – The burrito chain takes sustainability seriously. In their efforts to be a leader in this space, they set a goal of diverting 50% of its waste from landfills by 2020. This past April, the company reported 42% of waste has been diverted. Most recently, Chipotle launched its “Gloves to Bags” campaign shedding light on an “industry waste blind spot,” as CEO Brian Niccol described it. Making up almost nine times more of Chipotle’s waste than straws, plastic gloves are a major issue for waste reduction. Turning their problem into an opportunity, the chain partnered with Revolution Bag to repurpose its plastic gloves into trash bags.
Chipotle “Gloves to Bags” Campaign

General rule of thumb for the new era of sustainability – sing it loud and sing it proud! With nearly 9 in 10 operators expecting food waste reduction and sustainability efforts to take on a greater role in the next two years (NRA Show 2019), this is just the beginning of a bright green future for the foodservice industry where new and novel marketing can play a key role in telling a sustainable story.

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